It should be seen as nothing other than a massive blow. The announcement came from Schools Secretary Ed Balls this afternoon: Leicestershire had lost out on £80million to be spent rebuilding and remodelling secondary schools.
Yes, there were serious, and justified, concerns about how the plans would mean an officially “outstanding” school, Limehurst High School, would close.
But County Hall’s hands were tied – Leicestershire’s only chance of getting the money was to fulfill the government’s own criteria when it drew up its plans.
That meant it had to get rid of over-sized schools (to eradicate Loughborough’s 700 surplus places) and provide state-of-the art buildings with enough land – which meant keeping Limehurst appeared all but out of the question.
You see, gone are the days when local authorities could decide what’s best for their local area, like the county did all those years ago when it launched its pioneering view of education, its Leicestershire Plan, after the Second World War.
So the county council took a risk. It would gamble closing one of the best schools in the country in return for doing things the way the government wanted. Six schools in all would have been affected.
Sadly, it didn’t pay off. They have alienated the supporters of Limehurst and still didn’t get the cash.
It all leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
And while the Conservative-run council can blame Loughborough’s Labour councillors for disrupting the bid by wanting an “unworkable” alternative plan, which would have seen Limehurst remain open, and the Labour councillors can blame the council for failing to draw up a decent enough bid, it leaves the county’s plan to transform education in tatters.
It was billed as the new Leicestershire Plan, 50 years on, to do away with the middle school system.
It will continue. They say they will still change Loughborough’s school system. But it will be without any money; a sad, pathetic shadow of the original £80 million plan. The first area to be transformed, Melton and the Vale of Belvoir, has its own problems – which looks likely to result in one of the schools being shut down less than two years after the shake-up took place. Any major transformation elsewhere in the county now seems a long, long way off.
You only have to look at the new school buildings in the city of Leicester, which was in the first phase of the government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) money, to see the transformation that can take place. I have walked around all of the four so far and they are quite amazing places.
Leicestershire is already practically the lowest-funded per-pupil education authority in the country. Now there will be no real investment in school buildings for the foreseeable future either.
The government says Leicestershire could resubmit its bid at a later date. But let’s be honest – this was all-or-nothing. While even the Conservatives haven’t (yet) said categorically they will shelve the BSF scheme, the post-general election financial landscape will be very different, whoever gets in.
This was it. And even with the nagging doubt that closing an “outstanding” school was never really a very satisfactory plan, you just can’t help thinking Leicestershire will feel the repercussions of this decision for many, many years to come.